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Water Resources Center Awarded Grant to Research Effect of Brandywine Dams

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Crews in the middle of the Brandywine River work to remove a 115-year-old dam that was built to allow Wilmington water pipes to cross the river. (Photo credit: Mark Eichmann/WHYY

Crews in the middle of the Brandywine River work to remove a 115-year-old dam that was built to allow Wilmington water pipes to cross the river. (Photo credit: Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Spearheaded by research from the university's Delaware Water Resources Center (DWRC), the Brandywine Shad 2020 dam removal plan is one of 25 conservation projects across Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania that have been awarded more than $4 million in federal funding. The DWRC was granted $241,000 in federal funding to help lay the groundwork needed to remove the dams along 17.6 miles of the Brandywine River.

Below find a recent WHYY.org article featuring the impact of the Brandywine Shad 2020 dam removal plan, as well as the DWRC's Martha Narvaez sharing next steps for the project.

115-year-old Brandywine River dam removed to upgrade water pipes, restore fish migration

Work crews have been fighting the elements since November in the middle of the Brandywine River. Heavy rains over the past six months have caused some problems for workers demolishing a 115-year-old dam near the Washington Street Bridge in Wilmington.

The three-foot high dam was built to allow city water pipes to cross the river. Those cast iron water mains will be replaced by flexible iron pipes that will be buried beneath the river bed.

Heavy rain last week pushed the river higher, flooding the work site. "We got flows that were about eight times the flows that you normally would have this time of year, and it created a breach of our temporary dam and it flooded out the excavation area," said Sean Duffy, the city's water division director.

And though the project was necessary for the city's water infrastructure, the change will have environmental benefits too. "Take that project and enhance it by restoring the river to its natural flow and the natural bed that is under there," said Martha Narvaez, policy scientist at the University of Delaware's Water Resources Center. "The idea is that when they remove the dam, or the concrete encasing from the piping, that the fish that weren't able to migrate further up river will now be able to migrate further upriver."

For centuries, American shad fish would leave the salt water in the ocean and travel upstream in freshwater rivers to spawn. But because shad aren't able to leap out of the water like salmon can, the species has been unable to travel very far in the Brandywine or the nearby Christina River.

But even with this dam being removed, fish will only make it about a half mile further upriver before they encounter the City Dam. "That dam is going to be more challenging in terms of we can't remove the dam because it's really our water source," Duffy said. "Maybe they can build something that will allow fish passage upstream like fish ladders or fish ramps or fish elevators."

About two dozen people toured the project last week to learn more about the effort as part of a partnership between the state section of the American Water Resource Association and the group Clean Water: Delaware's Clear Choice. "What I love most about it is it's interested citizens, it's professionals, it's academics, it's all sorts," Narvaez said. "Everyone was coming from a different perspective."

Narvaez is part of a group at UD that was awarded federal grant money last week to fund more research into other dams in the state that prohibit the movement of shad.

"We're going to be looking at the dams upstream and looking at what their function is, what their purpose is and sort of the physical characteristics of it, and then to see if we are able to remove those," she said. "Ideally, you remove them. There's some that you may not be able to remove for historic purposes or actual purposes that they're serving in the river such as the drinking water intake in Wilmington."

Originally published by WHYY.org. Article by Mark Eichmann. Photo by Mark Eichmann/WHYY.

About the Water Resources Center

In support of Delaware's water resourcesfrom the state's groundwater aquifers to its streams, ponds, lakes, and coastal watersthe Delaware Water Resources Center (DWRC), part of the Institute for Public Administration, promotes research, education, and public outreach programs focused on the supply, management, and quality of water while fostering training and education programs for future water scientists.

About the Institute for Public Administration

The University of Delaware's Institute for Public Administration (IPA) addresses the policy, planning, and management needs of its partners through the integration of applied research, professional development, and the education of tomorrow's leaders.

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UD's Water Resources Center is researching the effects of dams along the Brandywine River on the movement of the American shad fish.
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